Apple beats iTunes antitrust case a decade in the making

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A jury decided Tuesday that Apple wasn’t trying to monopolize digital music when it added FairPlay, a digital rights management technology, to songs it sold on iTunes. The class-action suit against Apple was a decade in the making, but it took jurors just three hours to reach a verdict: Apple wins.

The lawsuit covered iPods purchased between September 2006 and March 2009, when only songs purchased in iTunes—and thereby protected by FairPlay—or imported from CDs would play on the devices. The jury was asked to decide whether two versions of iTunes, which included iPod firmware that made songs from rival services incompatible with the devices, were major product improvements or designed specifically to block rival services. One of the iTunes versions was tossed out of contention, and the jury decided that the other iTunes update did actually improve the product.

The case ended with a bizarre twist: a last-minute plaintiff called to replace two former plaintiffs who weren’t actually victims of Apple’s iTunes DRM. Apple discovered that the two plaintiffs didn’t purchase iPods during the time period covered by the class-action terms. The new plaintiff was found on Monday, but she didn’t testify.

It’s unsurprising that the case fell apart after no one victimized by FairPlay could be found in time to take the stand. The plaintiffs represented 8 million iPod owners.

Not like it matters much now. Apple hasn’t used DRM to protect songs since 2009, and some of the rival services whose songs were blocked from iPods don’t even exist anymore.

Apple issued a statement following its victory: "We thank the jury for their service and we applaud their verdict. We created iPod and iTunes to give our customers the world’s best way to listen to music. Every time we’ve updated those products—and every Apple product over the years—we’ve done it to make the user experience even better."

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